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INSIDE RADIO STUFF #100

RS 100 coverI just recorded and edited the 100th episode of the Radio Stuff podcast. It features an extensive interview with Cumulus and Westwood One personality Jonathon Brandmeier. It also marks the milestone by sharing memories with original co-host Deb Slater and listening back to a few favorite moments. I realized of all 100 episodes this one is among the most challenging. Primarily due to production. This experience reinforced the importance of caring about the details and asking for help when you need it. Here’s how it all came together.

LANDING BRANDMEIER
I had been talking to Brandmeier and his team about doing the podcast even before the new show was announced on WLS and Westwood One. We have mutual friends and had some business dealings in the past year so it wasn’t really ever about IF he’d do it, but WHEN the timing would be right. They wanted to wait until about a month into the new show. Last week I suggested the 100th episode and Johnny made it work.

Our call was scheduled for 10:00 a.m. PDT immediately following his syndicated show. I asked for 30 minutes, we talked for an hour. I started rolling tape and talking to the Radio Stuff listeners while waiting for the phone to ring. I don’t have a phone coupler, so I plug the phone directly into the board, place the phone on the desk. I record my part into a microphone and the phone mic sends my voice to the guest. In this case, I was talking for about 8 minutes before he called. Rolling before the interview is an NPR trick to capture everything. I blogged about it with Anna Sale a couple of months ago. My monologue and our opening exchange become a teaser clip I released 24 hours in advance of the podcast. His opening line to me after I answer the phone is the first thing you hear on the podcast.

 

THE CLIPS and DROPS
Brandmeier uses a lot of audio during his show and our interview was no different. However, the phone distorted the audio he was sending down the line. So, I had Brandmeier send all the clips after the interview to insert in post. The clips, for the most part, are longer than what he sent down the line, so I had to find the parts he used, edit, insert them and silence the phone version. For example, I used about 20 seconds of the audio from this video in the show.

THE LEVELS
After recording, even though I thought the levels were perfect, my voice entirely dominated Brandmeier’s, so I went through the entire interview and adjusted all my parts to blend more seamlessly with Johnny and then raised the gain on the whole file.

DEB SLATER
Deb recorded her voice on her end and I recorded my voice on my end. She then sent her file to edit in a higher quality audio. I recorded her right after Brandmeier and forgot to unplug the phone from the board. So, that means I recorded her too. I tried to silence the phone quality version of Deb, but I couldn’t get it all. You’ll hear it switch back and forth especially when she’s laughing or talking over me. My mistake. Won’t do it again.

During our chat she mentioned several moments from early Radio Stuff shows that I found after our call and inserted in post production.

ASKING FOR HELP – PART 1

After receiving that tweet from John Collins about the return of the fake town crier after the second Royal baby was born, I put an all call out for audio of the town crier.

It worked! I received this email a few days later;

Dear Larry,

You asked on Saturday for a clip of the town crier announcing Kate’s baby.
Here’s how 680 News in Toronto reported it.

https://soundcloud.com/bandanachap/royal-birth-town-cryer

Downloadable WAV (but from internet feed), 12MB, 1:10.

There’s a lesson in how radio has no borders any more.

Journalists in London capture the sound, and beam it around the world.

An all-news radio station in Toronto edits the announcement into their piece, broadcasts it to their listeners in Toronto, and right around the world on the internet.

A listener travelling on a train in Britain hears the piece, thinks “that might be interesting”, hits rewind on his mobile app, records it for posterity, and makes it available.

Congratulations on Radio Stuff 100, and here’s to many many more.

All best,
Weaver

ASKING FOR HELP – PART 2
After realizing the town crier was going to be a topic of discussion, I again asked twitter followers for help.

Geoff McQueen saw it and tagged DJ Dapper Dan and within an hour it was done. DJ Dapper Dan also had some thoughts on the fake town crier.

“That chap Appleton did not have the permission to cry from the Royal Family, they just said they didn’t object and that he should consult the relevant local authority which he failed to do as far as we know over here. Anyway he is not a bona fide Town Crier as you have to be appointed by a Lord of The Manor, A Local Authority or Similar level of accepted Government Body. He is not, never has been and is not likely to be. But fair play to him, he got a lot of publicity!”

ASKING FOR HELP – PART 3
I also reached out directly to Radio Today host Trevor Dann to see if he would offer a toast for the 100th episode. Trevor has been a supporter and reoccurring guest over the course of two years and I was happy he agreed to record a little something for the show.

CONCLUSION
I sometimes wonder why I go through all the hoops I do to create a show each week, but it is because I want it to be great. I don’t always hit out of the park, but when all is said and done I’m usually extremely satisfied with the product and proud to put my name on it. Johnny said it in the interview and I believe it to; you have to do the show for yourself first and not worry about who is listening.

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4 Principles for Creating Memorable and Impactful Radio Show Content

460)_9410455At RadioDays Europe, Graham Albans was a panelist. He’s the 26-year old assistant producer of the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2. It’s the most listened to radio show in Europe.

He shared his experience, insights and some show prep secrets with the Radio Stuff podcast this week.

Here are four things The Chris Evans Breakfast Show team keeps in our mind as they are making content for the show.

1. What comes out of the speaker, starts with what happens in the office. “We need to decide what kind of experience we want the listeners to have and generate that kind of feeling at the desks. We’re a hyper-positive and fun show and so we’re a good, fun team. We sound like we’re having a good time, because we are having a good time making the show. ”

2. It’s not our show, it’s their show. “It’s not about us, it’s about the listeners. Everything needs to reflect the listener. We don’t just tell our stories, we tell the stories of the listeners.”

3. Third thought radio mentality. This is a simple principle to apply whenever you’re coming up with ideas. Here’s how it works; “Your first thought – whatever it is – is likely rubbish and you should throw it out with the trash. Your second thought is starting to get somewhere — you’ve built on the original idea — and this is where most people stop, but you can take it one step further. The third thought is typically more personal, more unique, and you’ll be a million miles away from your first thought.”

4. Make the little things the big things (Make the big things the little things). Instead of talking to the biggest celebs, try interviewing a 5-year old school girl about a spelling quiz she has today. “It’s taking an everyday, ordinary experience and putting it on a pedestal.”

The Free Fall of Talk Radio

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From New York to Los Angeles, in Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, and D.C. at big stations and small there is an alarming story unfolding in talk radio. Talk stations are tumbling in the ratings and no one knows why, though there are many theories.

It’s political fatigue.

It’s too repetitive.

It’s too depressing.

It’s too angry.

It’s too boring.

It’s humorless.

It’s predictable.

It’s not entertaining.

It’s all commercials.

The list of once great stations that have dropped out of the top ten reads like a radio station all-star line-up: KFI, WABC, WLS, WMAL, KABC, KIRO, WBAP. And it’s not a fluke (pardon the pun.) This is real. Arbitron is noticing it too.

“…for the first time since we began keeping our format records, it (news-talk) recorded two consecutive books below a 9 share, finishing at an 8.7 in July. Now summer is historically the lowest time of the year for News/Talk listening, and we will be keeping a close eye on the results as August and September approach, but it’s worth noting that the format’s summer shares have declined about 10% since 2011.”

– Tony Hereau, Arbitron Media Insights Manager

Down 10% in two years as a format in the 48 PPM markets?!

Editor’s note: I’m sure radio ownership groups understand and have lowered revenue projections accordingly.

THEY DON’T LIKE US, LEYKIS. WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?Tom Leykis

Tom Leykis, former radio show host now internet trailblazer at NewNormalNetwork.com, believes he was in the epicenter of the downfall of talk radio.

“It was in 1994.”

Leykis was a guest on Episode 13 of the Radio Stuff podcast (listen). He recalled broadcasting from the NAB the year his show was launching into syndication and everyone kept talking about a panel featuring talk radio consultant Ed Shane. As Leykis recalls, this was Shane’s message:

“It’s important, for your talk radio station to be successful, that everyone have the same opinion as Rush.”

Leykis takes it a step further.

“So in other words, the secret to Rush Limbaugh’s success was not his years of experience or his time as a DJ or the fact that he had great timing or was a good comedian, that he made good use of sound, but no, no, no – the reason for his success was that he was a political conservative.”

From there after, every station Leykis approached to syndicate his show would ask what his politics were. It wasn’t always like that, “Previously, they only cared, ‘do I get ratings? Will I help the station make money? Will I make noise?’ Suddenly I was being asked, ‘Are you a conservative?’”

Leykis believes that was the moment talk radio went from being a mass appeal format to being a niche format. And the problems with talk radio today stem directly from a consultant misreading the tea leaves.

Talk radio went from Rush Limbaugh’s bells, whistles, jingles and parody songs and everything to a line up of people reading bill numbers.” He went on, “It’s devoid of humor, entertainment value or mirth. These are not radio personalities.”

He wonders aloud if anyone in the radio business getting the message?

And he cautions up and coming talkers, “Don’t go to a radio station, because you’ll never be allowed to develop your talent. Develop a podcast, develop a streaming live show, develop your own product, and learn how to sell it and become an entrepreneur.”

OKAY, SO NOW WHAT?

Maybe it is political talk’s fault. I happen to believe it’s likely a perfect storm of new media, new listener expectations, new social and political attitudes, and a general fear in radio of taking risks and being wrong – in every department.

Here are a couple of steps I believe are necessary for talk radio to attract new listeners and remain relevant.

1. DEMAND SHOWMANSHIP

Talk radio needs more storytellers and fewer alarmists. Talent need to entertain, emote and put on a show, as much as they provide insight, deliver information and add context. Radio station leaders must support talent and encourage them to be amusing, insightful, emotional, apolitical, curious, experimental, and positive while giving them permission to fail. And fail hard sometimes — without fear of being fired.

2. FIND ANOTHER REVENUE STREAM

Radio stations need to stop abusing the listeners. The quality and quantity of radio’s commercials is appalling. I mean holy smokes gang have you tried to listen to an hour of radio recently? Effective immediately commercials that don’t meet your standards or match your brand should be rejected. Be the first guy in the room to say, “Hold up! That spot sucks. It’s not going on our air.” Be bold.

And – this will be even less popular – reduce spot loads. It’s time. Thanks to DVR, podcasts, Netflix, on-demand audio, and satellite radio spot loads seem to be worse than ever. Until recently people were accustomed to sitting through commercials or flipping back and forth between stations, because it was the penance you had to pay to watch your favorite TV show or listen to a kooky talk show host. Now radio is the last place on earth (with the exception of movie theaters) where consumers are forced to sit there while commercials are crammed down their throat.

No fast forward.

No more patience.

No more listening.

Just look at the growth of online radio, on-demand audio and NPR. So what’s that mean? Radio needs to figure out a dual revenue stream. The future of financing big radio is commercials and__________. You fill in the blank.

Editor’s note: If you say commercials and banner ads, I will scream.

BOLD PREDICTION

Talk radio isn’t going to die, but it is definitely going through a mid-life crisis. The next 18-months the entire format will be redefined, programmers will be less focused on gaming PPM and more focused on listeners, commercials will sadly still suck, and Rush Limbaugh will be replaced by someone else as the face of the format.

Identifying Hit Stories

“Go find a group of guys in your target demo, eavesdrop on them, and listen to what they’re talking about.”

rick scottThat’s one way Sports Radio consultant Rick Scott of Rick Scott & Associates suggests you know if you have a hit story on your hands. I called Rick up after the arrest of ex-Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested and charged with murder. To me, it seems like manna from heaven for sports talkers who typically have a hard time finding talk-worthy topics in June and July.

“It’s life. Sports is a microcosm of life.”

Rick agrees, this is a whopper of a story, “When it happens in sports there is a magnifying glass on it because all of these athletes are special performers who make a lot of money, they’re in the spotlight, and like any other celebrity people have an interest of what’s going on.”

What surprised me is the lack of interest outside Boston and some other select cities. On the Wednesday night’s #SRCHAT on Twitter, hosts weren’t engaging with the story. Owen Murphy recapped the conversation on his “Steal This Idea” blog here, but among the highlights were these gems.

  • One host said: Scale of 1-10 it’s a 2 in my market. People are amazed it happened, but it won’t be a day to day listening driver.
  • Another said: it was a news story, but I found it a difficult topic to drive a show with today
  • And another said: it’s not that big in (my market). It’s fun to riff on but not attracting new audience

Rick doesn’t buy it,

“Anybody who says that I think is being naïve.”

During our interview on Episode 8 of the Radio Stuff podcast, Rick points to the speed of these stories circling the globe as being a major reason why markets who aren’t seemingly connected are still interested. Fans have access to all the news now and they’re interested in hearing what local hosts think about these big stories. (He joined us at 39:00 into the podcast to discuss a radio ideas festival and then Hernandez. You should listen to the whole exchange.)

Once you know you have a hit, what do you do with it? Rick has taught many hosts and PDs the “Topic Tree” method of topic development. Imagine the trunk of the tree as the core story and the branches are all the different ways you could talk about it.

“You sit down and say what are the various angles? You may want to take it from the angle of him being an athlete, you may want to take it from an angle that he’s had a troubled past and this isn’t the first time he’s been into trouble, you may take it from the standpoint that athletes don’t get exceptions — nobody gets a free pass, and  you just branch it out from there. There are so many different avenues you could go and that’s what is great about it – we each have different views and opinions and take it down a different path. And that’s really what the audience is looking for – that insight, that perspective — what does this mean?”

Hernandez Topic Tree

Aaron Hernandez Topic Tree Sample

There you go.

  • Play the hits.
  • Find a way into the story.
  • Make a topic tree.
  • If you don’t think your listeners care, eavesdrop on them.
  • Don’t be naïve.

Beware of “The Line”

shanshariff_fan

Shan Shariff

“I just thought it was sick.”

Shan Shariff is host of The New School on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.

“First off, I didn’t think it was funny at all. Sometimes you can maybe, maybe in my opinion, get away with some of that stuff if the bit is at least funny — but wrong. But, the thing I thought was it sucked. It was just a terrible, terrible bit. It wasn’t funny. I thought it was just disgraceful.”

He’s talking about the attempt at humor this week on a sports talk radio station in Atlanta. The three morning guys – all fired now – executed a bit about Steve Gleason, the former NFL player suffering from ALS.

Deb Slater and I talked to Shan in Episode 6 of the Radio Stuff Podcast (listen here). We also talked to Bean of Kevin and Bean from the “World Famous” KROQ in Los Angeles, Terry Jaymes of the nationally syndicated Lex & Terry Show and Terry Jaymes Alive podcast, and Fred Jacobs, President of Jacobs Media.

We all agree the bit crossed a line.

Ah, “the line.” Every talent deals with it. What is it? Where is it? How do you find it?

Shan can sense when he’s approaching it, “My show overall definitely flirts with the line a lot.”

“No one knows what the line is. The FCC doesn’t know what the line is.” Gene Bean Baxter has no doubt he’s crossed it –where ever IT is, “Well, of course, I mean I think something on our show crosses someone’s line every day.”

terry_james_bio

Terry Jaymes

Terry just got off an apology tour, “I didn’t even know what the situation was. We had to go back and listen to it. When I heard it, I said, ‘oh, this is not good.’” It was a fleeting, over-the-line remark from Lex about a murdered transvestite. It was unplanned, unfunny, inappropriate, and, “It sounded very hateful.”

Enter Fred Jacobs, President of Jacobs Media.

“What is offensive is a moving target over time.”

Oh, isn’t that special? Imagine being a blindfolded tight rope walker, but every night as the blindfold is put over your eyes, they move the guide wire.

Even so, Fred believes talent should know where it’s moved to.

“Air personalities need to have a basic understanding of where the lines are, again with the proviso that the lines are often gray or even blurry.”

So, how do personalities deal with this blurry, gray, moving line of what’s acceptable?

bean

Gene Bean Baxter

“I think the lesson is that if you have a job like mine, or like the guys on the show in Atlanta, you are taking your livelihood in your hands – in my case 22½ hours per week, every time the mic is open —  it’s possible that you might say something that will get you fired. That is the hard reality of the truth.”

It’s also a sad reality for a guy like Bean who has been on the air for 24 years. And not a reality that is necessarily fair in his opinion,

“There aren’t a lot of occupations where you get fired for making a mistake. Think about it, a doctor can misdiagnose someone, a mailman can deliver a wrong letter every once-in-a-while, a policeman can shoot someone by accident – they don’t always lose their jobs over it.”

Shan tries to avoid being the edgy comedian, “I don’t make cancer jokes. I don’t make AIDS jokes. I don’t make tornado jokes. I don’t do that stuff.”

On the Lex & Terry Show it boils down to their intentions behind a bit, “We never set out, in our entire 20-years, to hurt anybody, to say anything wrong, or anything like that. We don’t want to be controversial. We never fight with other morning shows. All the regular schticky things they do…we’ve never done that.”

TIMES, THEY ARE A CHANGING.

Terry has seen a sea change over the past 20 years of hosting Lex & Terry, “It used to be you could say whatever you want, got fired and ended up making more money somewhere else. You don’t anymore.”

Fred Jacobs senses a change too.

FredJacobs

Fred Jacobs

“I wonder, given the point and time that we’re at societally and culturally, whether this kind of radio – the Howard Stern, Mancow stuff and how that proliferated even into smaller markets —  if that hasn’t maybe totally run its course.”

“Maybe people are just getting tired of the anger and tired of the humiliation. You know it even kind of rolls into the whole bullying conversation. You know whether it’s Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut or these guys making fun of a former athlete who has ALS, I just kind of wonder if that kind of bullying and humiliation, perhaps, hasn’t just run out of gas. And if that’s the case, maybe that’s a good thing.”

SO, NOW WHAT?

The responsibility for what radio is and how it evolves falls on everyone’s shoulders; talent, programmers, companies AND listeners.

Shan knows as a talent he is responsible, “I did send a warning to my producer, to my co-host, and our call screener. I just said, ‘look, let’s continue to push the envelope, be edgy, but let’s use this as a warning. I think it’s really good to have warnings that scare the hell out of you. And that one should scare the heck out of any single person that works in our industry.”

Bean dreams of a day when companies step up to support talent more in these situations. He doesn’t think the guys in Atlanta should have been fired.

“I was very disappointed a couple years ago when my own company fired Don Imus over his remarks. That remark was consistent with the show they had been paying him to do for years and years and years on that station. But, just because enough people got upset they fired him for that. I think they should have stood by him and said, ‘ look, this is the kind of show Don Imus does. If people stop listening to it then we’ll fire him, because it won’t be profitable for us anymore.’”

Bean also believes listeners play a role.

“If I tune into a show and I’m offended by something that I hear on that station, so what?”

He believes shows can have momentary lapses of judgment and still recover.

“If they have a good relationship with their listeners – they are going to forgive them for a misstep , are going to say, ‘Wow, that was out of line dude, but I know you because I’ve been listening to you for a long time, so come back tomorrow and do something better.’

Fred Jacobs is pointing to talent and PDs. He writes about is passionately and eloquently in his blog post, “Stupid DJ Tricks.”

“I think when you communicate well with talent – they understand you and you understand them —  the likelihood of this kind of thing happening lessens a great deal.”

MY CONCLUSION

Based on these conversations and my observations, radio is going through some growing pains as it evolves and redefines itself. The line is moving. It’s moving away from sophomoric humor, on-air bullying and sidekicks running around with underwear on their heads. It’s moving towards something that’s enriching, entertaining, enlightening, and empowering. And it’s moving, because listeners expect more, companies expect more and hopefully we expect more from ourselves.

Seven Take Aways from Mike McVay

Mike McVayCumulus Senior Vice President of Programming Mike McVay knows a lot about radio. He’s been in the business since 1969 as a talent, PD, consultant and futurist. In his current role, he heads up programming for over 500 radio stations nationwide.

Deb Slater and I chatted with Mike this week on the Radio Stuff podcast. It was a wide-ranging interview that went well beyond the ten minutes he had promised us. He was gracious, accessible, frank, funny, and insightful.  You should really listen to the whole thing. Really.

Here are my seven big takeaways from Mike McVay.

1. If you are on-air at a Cumulus radio station bring your “A” game each day, don’t phone it in, because he’s listening.

icfsw1sMcVay: “I still dial in on a radio when I travel. I carry a Sony ICF-SW1; a small, 10 channel, digital radio. And the reason I carry it on the road with me is I want to hear the local station and their commercials and the imaging.”

McVay: “Lew Dickey said it best in a recent weekly meeting I had with him. Air talent that are live and local are fewer and fewer, so those air talent who are live and local need to really make every break count. They really need to be in the community, they really need to show why live and local is so valuable. Because where we have live and local talent we do excel. If we’re going to be live and local, the air-talent need to grasp that every time they turn on the microphone it is a rare opportunity and a privilege that they should take advantage of. “

2. If you are an air talent looking for work follow Mike McVay (@mikemcvay) on twitter and get his attention.

McVay: “I find myself actually finding new talent on twitter. One of the reasons why I tweet so much and I’m so involved in social media is because other people at the same level or same position I’m in in our industry don’t. And so I thinking making me accessible is a good thing.”

3. If you are a PD at Cumulus you are being closely watched.

Slater: In the 20-months you’ve been there what impact have you made?

McVay: “…and I’ve been able to help educate and direct our program directors. Having been a consultant for so many years, I’ve become a teacher. If anything I hope I’ve helped to make our PDs better.”

Slater: What keeps you up at night?

McVay: The greatest thing that worries me is individual programmers and individual air talent who are going through the motions, who don’t share the passion that we at the top of the food chain at Cumulus share.

Gifford: What’s your biggest programming challenge?

McVay:  Getting your people to use the tools and resources you give them and then have connectivity to a market. I can show you markets where our program directors take the tools we give them and they excel in the market and stations in the market are highly rated. I can show you other markets where the PDs take the exact same tools and for whatever reasons stations don’t excel. Now in some cases, one could argue the competition is better, but other cases I think I could argue that our PDs don’t embrace the systems the way they should. They don’t use the tools they way they could. As a result, the stations don’t perform as well.”

4. Radio says it wants change, but those who try to change get ridiculed. img_5844-e8f87ffb9a3a8a76a991840d72fb281e36d9cfeb-s6-c30

McVay: “Someone challenged me that putting Huckabee on, putting Geraldo on, hiring Michael Savage are crazy ideas and my response was I’ve been coming to these conferences for ten years. I hear all of you sitting in this audience complain there isn’t change, that we need to do something to get new and younger demos. Well, if nothing else, give Cumulus credit for trying something. Some things we try are going to fail. Some of the things we try are going to work. Everyone should be hoping that what we do works, rather than belittling it, because if it works, in this lemming business everyone will then run off the cliff and do what we’re doing.”

rush-pubshot5. Rush Limbaugh isn’t going away anytime soon.

McVay: “He’s not done. We are continuing to be big fans of Rush. You have to keep in mind that many of the things you read in the trades are taken out of context. And we are fans of Rush Limbaugh and, you know, the demise of Rush Limbaugh is greatly exaggerated. He continues to be one of the highest rated talk talent in America and all of us should want to have the ratings that he has.”

 6. It’s a great time to be in the radio business. Believe it! 

McVay: The opportunities are greater today, because there are so many more outlets. There are 12,000 radio stations, limitless internet radio stations, and opportunities for you to be heard. You may not make the type of money that people in broadcasting made in the past, but the opportunity to be on the air is greater than it’s ever been before.

If someone sits down and believes there is no opportunity for them in radio, then that is a person who is not creative. They are closed minded. If you really want to get the message out, you’re going to find a way to do it.

7. And one final thought…

McVay: People in broadcasting mostly need therapy, because they have a great inferiority complex.

(AUDIO) Radio Stuff Podcast – Episode 1

Radio Stuff Podcast LogoListen to the inaugural “Radio Stuff” podcast with Deb Slater (@deb_slater and www.debslater.com) and me. This first podcast we listen to how different radio sources treated the Cleveland story about the three women found after years in captivity; WTAM, Fox News Radio, NPR, Rush Limbuagh, BBC, and Radio Australia. We also talk about Paula White who got drunk before her final Friday night shift at BBC Radio Stoke. We listen to News Talk 980 CJME (Regina, Canada) and host John Himpe’s thoughts on a would-be seriel killer allowed to watch Dexter. We listen to radio station imaging from 100.3 The Sound in LA and 99.3 The Vine in Wine Country. We talked to XL 1010 Jacksonville’s Chad Scott about a new sports radio chat on twitter #srchat, and we debate the decency of a Fresh N Easy commercial. There’s a lot here! Enjoy. Let us know what you like, what you want more of, and what you could do without. And please send contributions, tips, audio, insights to both of us at radiostuffpodcast@gmail.com

 

Radio Stuff Podcast – Episode 1